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Juveniles Serving Life Sentences

Children who commit the most vicious crimes face life in prison

By True Crime WriterPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
Juveniles Serving Life Sentences
Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

Do children deserve life sentences if they kill another person? The U.S.A. is the only country in the world with life imprisonment for murder offenders under the age of 18., although in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without parole possibility. Around 2,500 inmates serving life in U.S. prisons committed crimes as juveniles and another 10,000 have been incarcerated since before their 18th birthdays.

Who are the juvenile offenders sentenced to abhorrently long or life in prison sentences?

Lionel Tate

NBC News

In 1998, 12-year-old Lionel Tate murdered 6-year-old Tiffany Eunice while his mother babysat the little girl. Tate’s mother was upstairs cleaning as the kids' played downstairs.

Mrs. Tate told the children to quiet down because they were loud. Under an hour later, Lionel walked upstairs and told his mother Tiffany wasn’t breathing.

Mrs. Tate found Tiffany badly beaten with bruises on her neck, legs, and feet. She also suffered a fractured skull and rib, a swollen brain, and lacerated liver. A medical examiner later said the amount of force used against Tiffany was similar to that of a speeding car.

Tate was arrested and sentenced to life in prison without parole. In 2004, a judge found his sentence unconstitutional and overturned the verdict. Tate was released from prison.

A year later, Tate was charged with armed burglary and battery. Subsequently, he was charged with violation of probation. Tate had threatened a Domino’s pizza delivery guy with a handgun after calling an order into the restaurant from a friend’s apartment. He then assaulted an individual inside the apartment.

He was sentenced to 30 years in prison on violation of probation charges. He was sentenced to an additional 10 years in prison on the armed robbery charge.

Joseph Ligon

Joseph Ligon, the longest ‘juvenile lifer’ in U.S. history, was 15 years old when he and a group of friends committed a series of burglaries around the Philadelphia area. The burglaries resulted in the deaths of five people.

Ligon denied shooting anyone, instead claimed he only participated in the robberies. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1953.

After spending 66-years behind bars, Ligon was released in 2021 after a social justice lawyer heard about his case.

Ronald Lee Sanford

At just 13 years old, Ronald Lee Sanford and a friend, Sean Rowe, killed two elderly sisters, 83-year-old Anna Harris and 87-year-old Julie Bellmar.

The crime occurred on August 18, 1987, when the two boys walked around the neighborhood hoping to cut a few lawns to get money to go to the state fair. They knocked on several doors before knocking on the sister’s door.

Offering their services, the boys became enraged when the sisters declined. They forced their way into the home and killed the women.

Rowe actually fired the handgun, resulting in the women’s deaths., Sanford claimed He received a three-year sentence.

Sanford, contradictorily, was sentenced to 170 years behind bars, based on Rowe’s claims that he killed the women. Little other evidence supported the claims.

He’s currently incarcerated at Indiana State Prison.

Joe Sullivan

Joe Sullivan never killed anyone. In fact, the mentally disabled 13-year-old was a pretty good kid, despite growing up in a physically and sexually abusive home. Joe didn't have a lot of friends and would often do anything asked of him if it meant making a new acquaintance.

As was the case in 1989 when two older boys asked Joe to help them break into a home. Joe agreed.

The three teenage boys took money and jewelry from a vacant Florida home. Later the same day, the homeowner returned home and was sexually assaulted. She did not see her attacker.

The two older boys were sentenced to juvenile detention. Joe was charged as an adult in a court where jury members made repeated and unnecessary references to his race, calling him a “colored boy,” “a dark-colored boy,” and referring to the victim being white.

He was sentenced to life in prison and sent to adult prison at 14 years old. Older inmates constantly victimized Sullivan until he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and placed in a wheelchair.

Joe served 25 years in prison before lawyers secured his release.


About the Creator

True Crime Writer

The best of the worst true crime, history, strange and Unusual stories. Graphic material. Intended for a mature audience ONLY.

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